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The Yanomami crisis and the preservation of living heritage

We, from the ICOMOS-BR Scientific Committee on Climate Change and Heritage, hereby express our repudiation of the facts and processes brought about the scenes we have seen throughout national and international media in the past days, portraying the neglection that led to the tragedy that occurred among the population of the Yanomami ethnic group, in the State of Roraima, right in the heart of Brazil.


Let's not fool ourselves, because this is not an isolated or unknown event. It is part of a nefarious project, since the same tragedy has been taking place in many of the indigenous communities in the national territory, threatened by economic interests, often armed, with racist and culturally supremacist values at its core. It is not by chance that we see electronic social networks repeatedly filled with the names of affected indigenous ethnic groups. These facts reflect, at the same time, how these desperately frequent tragedies find little space in the media. They depend, to be objects of just repudiation, on emblematic situations that affect indigenous peoples, and on those few selfless people who often give their lives to denounce the real situation of indigenous peoples and traditional peoples that inhabit Brazil.


Our Scientific Committee, Climate Change and Cultural Heritage, belongs to an institution, ICOMOS, whose scope is the preservation of cultural heritage. This is understood as a set of objects, testimonies of human experience, containing ties and memories that refer to our history, our habits, our practices and which, over time, are materialized in objects, manifestations, languages, traditions, whose attribution of meanings, attributes and values reflect human existence in their territories, the footprints of society in the small planet we inhabit.


As a scientific committee that seeks to deal with the consequences of climate change that directly or indirectly affect this heritage, and that wants to preserve the ways of living and existing of the different human communities in their territories, we understand that the Yanomami tragedy is a direct reflection not only of an extermination policy, which we will have to overcome. It reflects a negationist mentality as well, which affects all those perceived as different, or who are presented to us as such in order to meet specific and immediate interests.


When we talk about climate change we are talking about this blind transformation of the world we inhabit, where we are and exist, where our relationship with the earth only understands the domination and unsustainable exploitation of resources. It is not simply about acting and naively believing that rationality and technical development will later solve the problems we create. We cannot bequeath the destruction of testimonies that mark the path of our existence, our heritage, human or ecological, to the future. It is our responsibility to perceive the environment as part of our totality, and not as a limit to be overcome, explored, transformed and destroyed. For this, we can be inspired and dialogue with the ancestral models of our indigenous peoples, more sensitive and closer to mother earth.


It is no longer just about perceiving “life as it is”, but realizing that it is fundamentally “the art of the encounter”. The Yanomami tragedy, among other invisible ones, shows us the harsh face of the encounter with the mismatch that leads to the destruction of peoples, poisoning of rivers, predation of fauna, destruction of forests, scarcity of means of subsistence, ways of life and cultural richness. The Yanomami tragedy shows us the ugly and harsh face of the mismatch society that they want to impose on us. We need, therefore, to rediscover the encounter as an ideal of life, to value the difference from an ecosystemic point of view, where each one contributes, where the land is part of our living experience, and not only as a background or as a basic resource for our development. The perception of the specificity of each being, and of each place it inhabits, whether this being is animated or not, will allow us to perceive, through the capacity for dialogue, the reason for the very idea of our right to exist, and to understand, comprehend and preserve our fragile and vulnerable shelter, the earth.

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